But Ocean Beach artist Celeste Byers chose another way to shed light in these dark times: by painting a mural of the rescue dog Frida.
Frida, a member of the Mexican Navy’s canine unit, has found more than 52 people in natural disasters. Amidst the rubble, Frida and her team sniff out survivors under collapsed buildings. Images of her in her dog-tailored boots and rescue goggles flew across social media and brought a spark of optimism in the wake of a natural disaster.
Byers, a 28-year-old native of OB, collaborated with her friends at Maia Gallery in Mexico City to create a mural of the beloved rescue dog. She chose to use the halo-esque elements of the highly revered Virgin of Guadalupe to highlight Frida’s heroism. Roses and the Mexican national flower, dahlia pinatas, line the perimeter of the image. The 20-by-16.5 foot mural hangs down from the fourth story in Roma Norte, an area that took a hard blow from the earthquake.
I first saw Celeste’s mural on her Instagram account, which has 19,000 followers and counting. I began following her after she painted a mural near my house in Ocean Beach, (which was featured in the Peninsula Beacon).
Her vivid imagery combining realism and surrealism into a visually stunning, introspective experience wholly captured me. When I contacted her on social media to ask if I could post a screenshot of her Frida mural, she eagerly sent me quality photos. I then had the honor of interviewing her in her studio in San Diego.
SN: What inspired you to paint the mural of Frida?
CB: I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico City and have many friends there. I kept seeing stuff all over the internet, how awful it was, and to send money to help. I wanted to do something bigger. Friends invited me to paint a mural and I felt like I really had something to offer that I can give. I brainstormed together with my friends, Arturo and Liliana, from the Maia Gallery in Mexico City who told me about Frida.
SN: Why did you choose to go to Mexico in particular? Do you have relatives there or Mexican heritage?
CB: Well, I was conceived in Mexico, but no, I don’t have any heritage there. I’m half Chinese, half white. I know many people in Mexico, and didn’t know anyone affected by the Florida or Texas disasters. I felt a strong connection to Mexico and wanted to help people there.
SN: This mural really lifted my spirits when I saw it, especially right after such a horrible crisis. What advice would you give people to stay positive, especially during dark times?
CB: I just think people should stay positive in general. People should use their talents to spread happiness.
SN: I noticed on Instagram that you frequently paint murals to highlight a cause, such as your mural in New Zealand of the Fiordland penguin, to bring attention to their human related population decrease, or your mural in San Diego of Tilikum, the whale from the documentary “Blackfish.” Do you often use your art to heighten awareness or bring a sense of hope to the community?
CB: I first realized I could use art to send a message about things when I began painting murals with Sea Walls. I painted murals with Aaron Glass and Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans, which began with a tiny wall we painted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and has now spread to almost 300 murals painted by more than 200 artists around the world. Every mural is about a different ocean issue. I heard somewhere that murals are illegal in some parts of the world [LA lifted its mural ban in 2013] so it made me realize, ‘oh whoa, murals could be so powerful that they could be illegal.’ Sometimes I approach a wall and I just want to be paint something beautiful and other times I want to send a message. I’ve become more and more aware lately of how images do convey messages.
SN: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
CB: I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was 16. I went to High Tech High, which is a project-based learning high school. Even in my freshman year there I would do the art parts of the projects. I took my first painting class at 16. So hey, keep art in schools!
SN: You have murals across the U.S., in Mexico, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, New Zealand, and Australia. How do you manage to remain humble and inspired while your art career blossoms?
CB: There are always people that are better and there’s always more to aspire to. I’m just a normal person like everyone else. Every day is a new day.
Shona Neufeld is a freelance writer and resident of Ocean Beach.